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05 June

What will the Islamists do?

A major concern of AKP at the ballot box tomorrow is whether old time Islamists will join the departing Kurds

A week before the August 2014 elections, I was at a women’s gathering in Ankara. These were my friends who had come back to Turkey from different parts of the US or UK after AKP established itself in power around 2007. Almost all of them had graduate degrees in the West. They were all puzzled with the deep conflict between the Gulen Movement and AKP, but their overall comment was that Erdogan should be the President.
One of these women, a mother of four, and an engineer called me after her recent trip to Hajj. She said, “It is over. I will no longer support the AKP. It was not the corruption, or even all those AKP bigwigs ridiculing our sacred values, but what I saw at Hajj is enough for me.” She explained, “I saw a family I know well from the US, they are both working for the government now. Both rose up the government ranks fast. I always thought they were hardworking Muslims.
However, I saw them at Hajj receiving the VIP treatment. I waited to get a visa to travel to Saudi Arabia for five years; they decided to come to Hajj a month ago and got all their paperwork done through government privileges. I have saved for over 10 years to do my Hajj duty comfortably, they are in their 40s, and have travelled here as a family of 6. My taxes paid for their travel, and to top this neither the wife nor the daughters are hijabi. They could barely hold their ahram in place. It is a disgrace. This is not stealing government funding but it is an offense to all Muslims, this is not how you do Hajj.”
Those who follow Islamist communities and religious orders of modern Turkey know that AKP never had the full support of “all Islamists without a reservation.” Indeed, AKP was an offshoot of National View perspective, led by Necmettin Erbakan. Late Erbakan was harsh in his criticism of his junior disciples. He had also gone on the record to say that Ismailaga order in Fatih district had promised his party their vote but afterwards had overwhelmingly voted for AKP. Erbakan emphasized that the reason these pious groups had opted for AKP was the fear factor that ultra-secularists would come to power.
Now, despite all kinds of propaganda aimed at generating fear among Islamists, it seems clear that neither Islamists nor seculars consider headscarf or other religious freedoms an issue. AKP has opened up the social space to different religious groups, and finally in September 2014 relaxed the notorious restrictions on headscarf at almost all public venues. The sky did not fall.
To the contrary, several Islamists nowadays ask the question “Where is the passionate spirit of Islamist youth.” Islamists themselves confess publicly that the Islamist youth movement in Turkey had lost its core values and now yearns for Gezi youth.
Most conservatives have been longing for religious freedom that would unchain them from the government controlled Religious Affairs Directorate, which was established by the CHP and now became the vanguard of AKP. Nowhere is the depth of AKP’s fears to lose conservatives is more visible than Dirilis Postasi web portal. Hakan Albayrak, a prominent columnist had written several pieces asking believers to get out to vote for AKP. His main argument says it all: “Yes, you may have rightful reasons to criticize AKP but all of those added would not make up for the pride of Davos [the notorious ‘’One Minute’’ outburst of Erdogan] and headscarf freedom.’’ Also, devout Muslims are told to bear in mind that both former Egyptian President Morsi, and the Hamas leader Khalid Meshal, want them to vote for AKP. Albayrak’s other slogans are equally poignant: “You are not children. Now that has AKP opened up your path, are you going to teach AKP a lesson?”
Indeed, Albayrak had caught the pulse of the Islamists well. He started publishing articles to rein these groups back in the AKP ranks – articles  imbued with emotions of loyalty and fear.
Fear is difficult to hide. Recent announcements in pro-government dailies such as Yeni Şafak and Yeni Akit prove AKP’s emphasis on religious orders’ endorsement. Here are a few headlines of the news reported by these papers on June 4 : “Davutoğlu visited Ismailağa order.”Yahyalı religious order announced their electoral choice.” ‘’[Hayrettin Kahraman, a prominent religious scholar,] announced his vote.”
What shook the core of Islamist voters was a combination of the following :

1- Lavish, unaccounted spending combined with extreme cronyism. This affects all country, and old time Islamists are experiencing the consequences of incompetent bureaucrats first hand.

2- Foreign policy failures. The fact that Muslim Brotherhood leadership collapsed in all countries and AKP government looks helpless and weak. The situation in Gaza and AKP’s relations with Israel are viewed with doubt.

3- Erosion of Islamic values among the youth is seen as a reflection of moral corruption of government. Drug use has increased in conservative neighborhoods. ‘’Un-Islamic’’ statements and lifestyles of visible AKP figures are also a factor. [These include both secular looking new pundits and seasoned AKP elites]

4- Failed partnerships: Islamist groups blame AKP for the Gülen movements rise to power. They also ask: If AKP had not supported HDP for so long, could the latter become so strong?

5- Timing is right: Erdoğan is in a secure position, AKP can be taught a lesson to clean up house.

6- Fear factor do not work anymore since none of the “secular’’ groups seem too much troubled with Islamic way of life or dress code any longer. “We are victims, who need to unify” does not resonate among people who do not see themselves as victims anymore. 

The August 2014 elections were a referendum for Erdoğan, but June 2015 vote is no longer about Erdoğan. The election campaign made one matter all too clear: resentment of Islamists can no longer be silenced.

Tags: pınar tremblay , election , akp , erdoğan , erbakan , morsi


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